You could buy an Ordinary TV or you could buy a Smart TV!
Features of a Smart TV
A Smart TV (STV) promises new avenues of on-demand content, interactivity and data access. With a STV, you can potentially:
- Access thousands of hours of content stored on YouTube, Vimeo etc.
Such content has terrific educational and entertainment value and not available through conventional broadcasters. Best of all, this content is available on-demand.
- Access Internet on your TV.
Check email, use search engines, book tickets, all quickly and on a whim.
- Launch Apps for education, entertainment, productivity and social networking.
Be it online courses through Udemy or cooking classes by Sanjeev Kapoor, apps are convenient portals for focussed productivity.
- Play action, arcade, board, intellectual and multi-player games.
With thousands of games available via Apps or Websites, the fun quotient of a STV is very high.
- Catch up with Audio-video conferencing.
On supported STVs, you can launch apps like Skype, Oovoo and do face to face video conferences.
Issues with Adoption
A few factors prevent everyone from adopting a STV.
- High Cost:
STVs cost disproportionately high when compared to ordinary TVs. Often the price difference is so high, that you can simply buy a Laptop and attach it to an ordinary TV to make it smart, and it will still cost you less.
STVs use arcane technology and often the most desired apps and content are not available on the platform.
The software that powers STVs is not updated frequently and within a year some content is not playable anymore unless you buy a newer model of the STV. Within a few years, the software on the STV is abandoned by the manufacturer and the STV becomes an ordinary TV. Case in point, my Panasonic VT-20 which features an Youtube app, can no longer play most Youtube videos.
STVs also need accessories to perform all the promised functions. Equipment like video-camera, keyboard etc. must be purchased separately and only from the manufacturer. Needless to say, the accessories are priced disproportionately.
A potential solution for such adoption problems would be to de-link the software component from the TV. Connecting a Laptop is an example of such de-linking. Not only such a combination is capable of performing all the smart functions, the individual components continue to be usable on their own. Issues like Compatibility, Obsolescence are entirely avoided due to regular software updates.
The issue is generally that we can rarely afford to dedicate a laptop to the TV and more often than not, we need to hook it up to the TV every-time we want Smart TV functions.
If you can buy a device that costs considerably less than a laptop but offers most of the smart functions, then you probably will not mind dedicating this device to the TV and leaving it connected.
The efforts started with Media Player boxes such as Western-Digital TV which could play many movie formats from USB Pen Drives, Hard Disks. Electronic manufacturers in China started offering similar products at less than half the cost for users in the developing countries (where users accept compromise gracefully). [Search AliExpress for HDD TV Player]
Soon Ordinary TVs, DVD Players and Blu-Ray Disc players also started offering the same functionality at no additional cost.
The Apple TV was the next stage in evolution. This device could connect to the Internet and access content. Sadly, due to business decisions, this device does not offer (to date!) the ability to play stored content, access file-shares, launch apps etc.; thus severely limiting the appeal of this device in the developing world.
Google abandoned it’s attempts to bridge the gap and devices like Roku do not offer a considerable step-up from the Apple TV in features.
Single Board Computers like the Raspberry Pi are also being successfully used by enthusiasts for implementing STVs for just $40.
With the growing popularity of Android OS, electronics mavericks in China started creating devices that run Google’s free OS and meet or exceed the criterion for Smart TVs.
Meet the MK809V
The MK809V is in a long line of devices that have been undergoing steady evolution. The earliest devices in this series (MK808) used single-core processors, had 512MB RAM, featured Android 2.3 OS and could just about manage to play XVID and H263 content. The current evolution of the device has grown in capability to handle more sophisticated audio-video technologies and can easily play Full-HD content encoded in H.264 format. [Search AliExpress for MK809V]
- Amlogic S805 Quad Core CPU: This processor is capable of playing Full-HD content encoded using H.265 codec.
H.265 codec allows Full-HD quality at half the file-sizes of H.264. While a DVD movie occupies 4000 MB, H.265 can achieve the same quality in just 400 MB!
- 1 GB DDR3 RAM: This is sufficient for quick launch of apps and switching between them.
- 8 GB ROM: Of the 8 GB internal storage memory, 4 GB is taken by the Android OS, leaving approximately 4 GB for user-installed apps and data.
- Support for USB Pen Drives and Micro SD Card: Users can load audio-video files from Pen Drives or Micro SD Cards and play.
- Bluetooth: Users can use bluetooth keyboard, mouse to control the device from their couch.
- Mali-450 Quad Core GPU: The graphics processor is capable of handling basic 2D and 3D games just fine.
- Full-HD Resolution: The device works on HD-Ready (720p) or Full-HD (1080p) TVs.
- HDMI Interface: The device outputs audio and video data over HDMI. To connect the device to older TVs that do not have HDMI interface, users will need to buy a HDMI to Composite Video adapter. [Search AliExpress for HDMI to Composite Video Converter]
- Wireless N150: The 2.4GHz Single Band Wireless Radio connects the device to your Internet Router. Using WiFi, you access files shared by other computers and devices in the network.
- Miracast, DLNA Support: You can use the device as a Screen-mirror for your other Android devices or use it to browse and play content from DLNA servers in the network.
- The functions very well as an Offline Media Player, Online Media Player and Casual Internet Browsing. I copied a variety of media files featuring XVID, H.264 and H.265 video codecs and the device played them all without batting an eyelid.
- The device Wi-Fi worked flawlessly. The device was placed approx. 18 feet away from the router with only one wall as obstruction. The device was able to play 720 Youtube videos without buffering. It was also able to connect to the shared drives on my laptop and play the files.
- The device uses a 5V DC 2A power supply. It is the same as what is typically bundled with mobile-phones and tabs today. In fact, I was even able to power it up and use it with a portable battery. FYI, the Micro USB slot adjacent to the Micro SD card slot on the device is meant for connecting power to the device.
- The device worked without any issues with Logitech M185 wireless mouse, Logitech K400 wireless multimedia keyboard. I was even able to hot-swap them.
- The device uses a custom launcher instead of the Android default launcher. While this launcher is sparse and hides the conventional icon-heavy interface of Android OS, it may also prove to be a hindrance to the tech-geeks. I am listing the custom launcher as a positive because of the relative ease with which non-technical users can trigger media playback functions.
- The device is incapable of handling 10-bit H.265 files, 4K-UHD files. While MX Player boldly starts the playback of such files, within seconds it falls back to Software Codec where playback practically stops and must be force-aborted.
- Youtube videos at 720p may stutter. The most common issue is lip-sync. This error is not consistent and many 720p videos play just fine. I have A feeling that this also has to do with available bandwidth and buffering.
- Google Play Store does not allow installation of common apps. The Google Play Store depends on device reported data (such as device type, orientation, capabilities etc.) and Software Developer specified app compatibility manifest. This device is deemed incompatible by Google Play Store with most of the commonly used apps including Chrome Browser, Youtube application etc.
However, I was successful in downloading the APK files for the apps, copying them onto a MSD Card and then side-loading them into the device without any hassles. Even apps like Antutu worked flawlessly.
- There is neither a physical switch to power the device on / off, nor is there any kind of indication that the device is powered on. No LED indicators are present on the device.
- The device or it’s manual do not feature any markings on what port does what. There are two Micro-USB ports and it is only with trial and error that I figured out their function.
- The device is supposed to support USB OTG (USB On The Go) and an adapter cable was supplied in the box. However, I could not manage to get it to work.
I even tried a few USB OTG cables that I have (which I know to work) but met with no success.
- The device display resolution seems to be fixed at 1920 x 1080 pixels. Even though, I had connected it to a HD-Ready TV, the display resolution did not drop to 720p. Thus the player kept struggling and rendering everything at 1080p, which my TV promptly resized to 720p for the display.
- The device lacks an option to either perform a Soft Power-off or a Hard Power-off. Like any OS, Android OS powered devices must not be turned off without shutting down the OS systematically. The lack of ‘root’ access means we cannot install any APK that provides this function too.
- Due to the low processing power of the CPU, interrupts generated by devices such as a mouse, can result in stutter during video playback. In one particular instance, I was playing a video downloaded from Youtube and I was playing with the mouse to perform a cursor dance. I noticed that the playback was noticeably jittery whenever the mouse was being moved.
- The firmware update function fails with a non-descript error message. I am afraid I will have to troll many forums from time to time to find a suitable update to my device.
As a budget media player device and Smart TV functionality, this device meets expectations. There are files that this device cannot play but most users will not face too many such issues. In any case, there are plenty of work-arounds for such situations.
After all, where there is a will, there is a way.